NCF Nation: best of spring 2009
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Optimism is a powerful thing. And spring is a time for renewal. So this is a "Best of" list, without any of the "Negative Nellie" stuff.
Best spring game performance by a quarterback: Stanford redshirt freshman Andrew Luck all but won the starting quarterback job over incumbent Tavita Pritchard after completing 18 of 25 passes for 352 yards and five touchdowns to lead the White team to a 42-17 victory over the Cardinal.
Best spring game performance by a quarterback II: Washington quarterback Jake Locker seemed fine working in a pro-style offense after completing 16 of 18 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns. The two incompletions, by the way, were drops.
Best spring game performance by two quarterbacks: Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli and Justin Roper combined to complete 37 of 56 passes for 516 yards and five touchdowns and neither threw an interception in the Ducks' spring game. Perhaps it was the rainy weather only fit for a Duck?
Best spring, overall, by a quarterback: Under intense, national scrutiny ,USC's Aaron Corp threw only one interception throughout spring practices and was consistently solid throughout the session, which earned him the nod as the Trojans No. 1 quarterback over spectacular freshman Matt Barkley entering the offseason. Under coach Pete Carroll, every previous Trojan quarterback who had been tapped No. 1 out of spring started the season opener.
Best performance by a true freshman: Barkley made the recruiting gurus who ranked him No. 1 look smart.
Best spring game on defense: Talk about a penetrating performance. USC's backup defensive end Nick Perry had six tackles for loss, including four sacks, among his seven tackles. Yeah, USC's defense is going to be hurting in 2009.
Best spring on defense: Six guys stood out: Oregon cornerback Walter Thurmond III, UCLA's tackle Brian Price, Oregon State tackle Stephen Paea, Arizona State defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, Arizona linebacker Vuna Tuihalamaka and USC linebacker Malcolm Smith.
Best surprise: USC transfer and notorious underachiever Jamere Holland suddenly decided to become Oregon's best deep threat and turned in an outstanding spring. Golly, sometimes listening to your coaches helps.
Best breakout: While California has questions at receiver, the general feeling is sophomore Marvin Jones is almost certainly one of the answers.
Best 'it's about time' breakout: USC's Everson Griffen might be the nation's most talented pass-rusher, but his high-performance engine has also been a high-maintenance engine. Yet his effort and intensity were consistentthis spring, which meant no one could block him.
Best comeback: California offensive tackle Mike Tepper has been through a lot, but he's hoping his sixth year will just be about anchoring a line with a lot of upside. Read Tepper's story here.
Best comeback II: Got a funny -- mean, but funny -- note during the 2008 season that instructed the Pac-10 blog to refer to Oregon State receiver Darrell Catchings as Darrell Droppings. Can't do that now because Catchings lived up to his name -- the real one -- this spring.
Best position change: Arizona sophomore Robert Golden, a marquee 2008 recruit, switched from cornerback to strong safety this spring, and early word is he could become an All-Conference player at his new position. The move further allowed the Wildcats to switch Cam Nelson to free safety from strong and get Trevin Wade on the field to complement Devin Ross at corner.
Best coaching decision: Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh wants his best 11 on the field at any given time, and he's willing to get creative to do it. That's why he's got a handful of guys playing both ways, including Owen Marecic (fullback and middle linebacker), Michael Thomas (cornerback and receiver), Richard Sherman (cornerback and receiver) and Alex Debniak (linebacker and running back). Will it work? We'll see. But it's undoubtedly interesting.
Best candidate for a karmic change: No team had worse injury issues this spring than Washington State, which is clearly in the midst of a major rebuilding project. Then promising defensive end Cory Mackay, who'd impressed this spring, suffered a serious back injury after he fell asleep at the wheel of his car. The Cougars are overdue for some luck. Perhaps it arrives this fall?
Best position in conference: The Pac-10 might have the nation's best collection of talent in the secondary, with USC and California boasting units that should rank among the nation's best. Consider: FS Taylor Mays (USC), SS T.J. Ward (Oregon), SS Josh Pinkard (USC), CB Walter Thurmond III (Oregon), CB Alterraun Verner (UCLA), CB Syd'Quan Thompson (California), CB Devin Ross (Arizona), CB Omar Bolden (Arizona State), FS Rahim Moore (UCLA), CB Shareece Wright (USC), among others.
Best potentially surprising position: If you talked about good Pac-10 defensive linemen in recent years, you were basically talking about USC. Not in 2009. Nine of the Pac-10's top 30 players, at least by, er, one person's accounting, are defensive linemen, and that list included only one player from USC (Griffen, at No. 30) and didn't include Cal's Cameron Jordan.
Best quote: "How do we go from nine to one?" said Chip Kelly on what he believes are his marching orders as Oregon's new coach. "Nine" is where the Ducks finished last y
ear in the final coaches' poll.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I can't give out ESPYs for monumental spring performances. But I still have a few awards for outstanding achievement during spring practices around the Big 12.
Here are some of my more notable choices:
Best spring game performance by a quarterback: Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin picked up where he left off last season by passing for 310 yards and three TDs and rushing for 41 yards and another score in the Bears' spring scrimmage.
Best spring game performance by a non-quarterback: Texas A&M wide receiver Jeff Fuller produced nine catches for 154 yards and a touchdown and was the highest points producer in coach Mike Sherman's convoluted spring scrimmage that finished with a 117-107 final score. No, it wasn't an old ABA basketball game.
Best collective performance, offense: After finally getting healthy, Colorado's offensive line dominated throughout the spring. The Buffaloes culminated their development by producing 274 rushing yards and netting nearly 5.5 yards per carry, even when five sacks were factored into the statistics.
Best spring-game defensive performance: Kansas State's Brandon Harold was a pass-rushing beast, contributing three sacks along with a tackle for loss and nine tackles in the Wildcats' Purple-White game.
Best collective performance, defense: Texas' secondary showed two-deep talent throughout the camp, but saved their last for the Longhorns' spring game. They terrorized Heisman Trophy runner-up Colt McCoy, who completed only 11 of 24 passes for 95 yards. Most importantly, they produced two interceptions after notching only six during the entire 2008 season.
"Mr. April:" What is it about spring games and Oklahoma cornerback Dominique Franks? Franks produced two interceptions, including a 42-yard return for a touchdown, in the Sooners' Red-White game. Last year, Franks had three interceptions in the Sooners' spring game.
Best unlikely spring performance: Former Kansas State walk-on linebacker Alex Hrebec thrived in new coordinator Vic Koenning's new defense by notching 19 tackles in the Wildcats' spring game.
Best position change: Missouri redshirt freshman Brad Madison's move from offensive tackle to defensive end didn't catch many eyes early in spring practice. But Madison came on with a productive finish, capped by two sacks in a late scrimmage and development that pushed him into the mix for playing time in the fall.
Best performance by a freshman: Texas is looking for a boost in its pass rush after the departure of starters Brian Orakpo and Henry Melton from last season. Early enrollee Alex Okafor was stunning in his early work. Texas coach Mack Brown has always been hesitant to play freshmen, but Okafor's quick development in Will Muschamp's defense might cause him to change his opinion.
Best spring game atmosphere: What is it they say about there being no place like Nebraska? That certainly was the case for Bo Pelini's second spring game. Even with a $5 admission charged, a Big 12 high 77,670 turned out for the Cornhuskers' spring game. The total ranked third nationally, trailing only Ohio State and Alabama.
Best story of the spring: After struggling as he recovered from a career-threatening hip injury, Oklahoma State defensive end Richetti Jones finally started living up to the form that once earned him the nickname of the "Sack Master." Jones' development into a consistent threat will be important as new OSU coordinator Bill Young tries to cook up enough consistent defensive pressure to push the Cowboys into contention for their first South Division title.
Biggest spring non-story: The Robert Marve victory tour. The former Miami quarterback kept showing up around the Big 12 trying to find his next playing situation. He appeared for a few minutes at the Nebraska spring game and also met with Texas Tech coach Mike Leach about transferring there. Earlier, he unsuccessfully tried to convince Oklahoma and Oklahoma State coaches to join their programs.
Quotes of the spring:
"Young is not in our vocabulary. There will be no excuses. We've got to go out there and we've got to play as good as any linebacker corps in the country." Nebraska linebacker coach Mike Ekeler, telling the Lincoln Journal-Star he's not satisfied with his unit's improvement during the spring.
"Have you ever seen anything as boring as that?" Kansas State coach Bill Snyder after not exactly being enthused with his team's performance at its spring game.
"This isn't a team that walks around like the Steel Curtain. They know they gave up a lot of points, they know they gave up a lot of yards and know they didn't tackle well. That's where you have to start." Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads on his team's need for defensive growth.
"It doesn't matter to me at all. I know there isn't one on ours. And I know where the trophy is." Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, commenting to the Norman Transcript about Texas' claiming of the 2008* Big 12 title. The Longhorns briefly included last season -- with an asterisk -- among a group of team championships at the Longhorns' football training facility.
"Ed didn't like showing up and studying at places I felt like he needed to and like the academic people asked him to, so he can go study out there on the 50-yard line." Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who explained to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal why wide receiver Edward Britton was forced to study in the middle of the field at Jones AT&T Stadium after an early spring practice -- during the middle of a brief snowstorm.
"I challenged them. We have to do things that exceed what other people do because we need to get further faster." Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman, on his team's need for immediate improvement heading into the season.
Like country music, it's always award season around here. Let's dole out some superlatives from the Big East spring.
Best spring game performance: West Virginia's Jarrett Brown looked like a worthy successor to Pat White in completing his first 15 passes and finishing 21-for-28 for 273 yards and four touchdowns. Granted, that came against the second-team defense, but Brown was still impressive for his efficiency.
Best out-of-the-blue performance: Connecticut walk-on receiver Marcus Easley had 10 catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns in the Huskies' spring game. Not surprisingly, he's going to be put on scholarship now.
Best performance by a freshman: Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu enrolled in January and played most of the spring in the secondary before a late switch to receiver. He had four catches for 43 yards and a touchdown and impressed everyone with his overall ability and savvy.
Biggest surprise: Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly switching receiver Marcus Barnett to cornerback the day before spring practice, and Barnett claiming the starting job right away.
Biggest surprise II: The Syracuse quarterback situation. Doug Marrone caught everyone off guard by naming Ryan Nassib the starter in the team's fourth practice. And since it's still technically spring, the Greg Paulus story is not one anybody saw coming a couple of months ago.
Best comeback: I was all set to give this to Pitt linebacker Adam Gunn for coming back from a broken neck to win the starting middle linebacker job. That's a tougher sell following this week's news of Gunn's arrest and suspension. So let's go with another middle linebacker, Reed Williams of West Virginia. He missed almost all of last season with shoulder problems but regained his dominant form this spring.
Best quote: "This is our version of 'The Gong Show.' We just line them up and see how they look. If we don't like them, we try another guy. Tomorrow we're going to take a look at Tony Pike at nose guard." -- Cincinnati's Kelly on Barnett's switch.
Best quote II: "If there are any students who can't beat that, then they really need to decide what they want to do in life." -- South Florida coach Jim Leavitt after running a 5.72 40-yard dash to promote the Bulls' spring game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Spring practice has wrapped up in the Big Ten, and it's time to look back at some of the superlatives from the last eight weeks.
Best spring game performance -- The quarterbacks made this a tough choice, but I've got to go with Michigan State tandem Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol. Both players passed for 357 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in the Green-White Game. Honorable mentions to go Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Illinois defensive end Jerry Brown and Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips.
Best performance by a freshman -- Early enrollee Tate Forcier left Michigan fans feeling a bit more comfortable about the quarterback position after the spring game. Forcier tossed four touchdown passes and ran for another to complete an encouraging spring in Ann Arbor. He still has a ways to go, but he impressed the coaches this spring with his playmaking ability and willingness to learn the system. Honorable mentions go to Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray and Michigan State safety Trenton Robinson.
Best out-of-the-blue performance -- No one saw Ralph Bolden coming this spring, including Purdue's defenders, evidently. Bolden not only put himself in the mix for the Boilers' starting running back spot, but he might enter the summer as the frontrunner. A virtual unknown before the spring, Bolden rushed for 420 yards and four touchdowns in Purdue's spring scrimmages, including 153 yards and two scores in the Black & Gold Game.
Best position change -- Indiana's Kellen Lewis might have fit here if not for his dismissal days after spring ball ended. The nod goes to another quarterback-turned-receiver, Iowa's Marvin McNutt, who impressed the coaches and shot up the depth chart this spring. McNutt brings excellent size and athleticism to the wide receiver position, and should be one of Ricky Stanzi's top targets this season.
Best spring game atmosphere -- A spring game record crowd of 95,722 filled Ohio Stadium on a sun-splashed Saturday for the spring game. Packing one of the nation's biggest stadiums for a glorified scrimmage definitely adds some atmosphere. Michigan and Penn State also drew impressive crowds for their spring games.
Best story of the spring -- The development of quarterbacks around the league this spring bodes well for the Big Ten come September. Holdovers Daryll Clark and Juice Williams looked polished, while Iowa's Stanzi and Ohio State's Pryor build off strong first seasons as the starters. Teams like Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin can feel better about their depth at quarterback, and Michigan was pleased with Forcier.
Best non-story of the spring -- Greg Paulus' brief flirtation with Michigan generated a ton of buzz, though the possibility of the former Duke point guard joining the Wolverines as a quarterback always seemed remote. The Paulus story has gone away (thankfully), but it kept Michigan in the news and might have helped Paulus generate attention from other schools.
Best quote -- "If we've got a room full of guys that think, 'Well, that's what you do. You come to Ohio State and you're Big Ten champs,' if that's the reality in their mind, then we're going to have a problem," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. "Because it is hard. People that know just how hard it is are gone. Because they're the ones that traversed that mountain.
"It's our job to get guys to understand how difficult it's been. It's not, 'Wish upon a star and I'm entitled to that.' That's the fun of raising kids up, helping them understand that goals are wonderful, but the plan and the action taken toward those goals it what it's all about."
Best quote II: "I don't want to have a quarterback controversy, but I also want to provide equal opportunity for everybody involved," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio. "I don't want it to be, 'He played well one time, so he's the guy.' What we're building for is consistency and performance over the long term."
Through 50-plus spring games, several things stood out, coaches learned a lot about their teams, players learned a lot about themselves and both parties hope that translates into success in the fall.
There were several memorable plays throughout the various spring games. Here are a couple highlights from the best of this spring:
Best highlight-worthy play: Hawaii ran the "Medeiros Special" for what ended up being the winning score in the Warrior Bowl. Quarterback Bryant Moniz lateraled to slotback Jon Medeiros, who heaved a 50-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jovonte Taylor for the touchdown.
Best hands: Utah State wide receiver Omar Sawyer had three catches for 196 yards and touchdowns catches for 72 and 80 yards in the spring game. Sawyer was challenged by the coaches to play a significant role in new head coach Gary Andersen's offense. Last season, Sawyer had 19 catches for 246 yards and no touchdowns in 11 games.
Best defensive performance: Memphis redshirt freshman defensive back DeRon Furr, a transfer from Auburn, was named the spring game's defensive MVP after notching seven tackles, two for loss, two pass break-ups and an interception returned 54 yards for a touchdown.
Best performance by a quarterback: Utah State's Diondre Borel, who was known more for his running ability last season, spent the spring working on his passing and in the spring game was 12-of-23 for 320 yards and three touchdowns.
Best comeback: San Jose State's Kevin Jurovich returned this spring after missing most of last season with mono. He led all San Jose State receivers in the spring game with six catches for 98 yards and a touchdown.
Best position change: Army's Ali Villanueva from left tackle to receiver. The a 6-foot-10, 286-pound senior started 12 games at left tackle last season, but new head coach Rich Ellerson took one look at Villanueva, noticed his speed and agility, and thought his size would give the Black Knights a decided advantage.
Best surprise: Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn was not even in the quarterbacking conversation midway through spring football, but after completing 8 of 13 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, Wynn is in the thick of the hunt for the starting role.
Best coaching decision: San Jose State coach Dick Tomey's decision to hire Terry Malley as quarterbacks coach. Malley spent the past 14 years as an offensive coordinator for the San Jose SaberCats, the arena football team. If anyone knows about offense, it's Malley, and if there's one thing that held San Jose State back last season, it was its lack of offense.
Best quote(s): "The fact that we're so far away at quarterback right now is what stands out. They were just awful, awful. I mean, it was embarrassing." -- Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild gives his honest assessment of his quarterback situation after the final spring scrimmage.
"My heart sank when he didn't get up right away. I was actually talking to somebody at the time and I didn't hear a word that person said. All I could see was Ricky on the ground. Fortunately it was a mild sprained ankle. He could have gone back in if it was a real game." -- Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo on his thoughts after starting quarterback Ricky Dobbs went down with an ankle injury during the spring game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
How about a few helmet stickers from the spring?
Yeah, yeah, I know. They don't play any games against real opponents, just spring games and scrimmages.
But there's still plenty of material to work with, so here goes:
Best numbers: Did you see some of the receiving statistics the Arkansas receivers put up? Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, in particular, had touchdown-fests this spring. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is hoping that's good news for his offense and not necessarily bad news for the Hogs' defense.
Best performance by a freshman: Easy choice here. South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore walked onto campus after graduating from high school early and promptly won one of the starting cornerback jobs. Steve Spurrier is also going to give him a shot to play quarterback in certain situations. And if that's not enough, Spurrier said recently on the booster club speaking circuit that Gilmore is one of the best football players to ever come to South Carolina.
Best no-show: For a guy who was supposed to be next in line to take over for Knowshon Moreno, Georgia's Caleb King sure had a pretty mediocre spring. He has gobs of talent. What he's yet to prove is that he has the toughness to be a great running back in this league.
Best comeback: Has to be LSU's Chad Jones. The Tigers tried to play him at too many positions in 2008 and he didn't play up to his potential. But he's at free safety to stay now under new defensive coordinator John Chavis and was a force this spring. Look for him to be a force in the fall as well.
Best surprise: Some thought Alabama's Robby Green was barely big enough to be a cornerback in the SEC. But he played plenty big this spring and laid claim to Rashad Johnson's old safety position. Talk about some big shoes to fill, but Green is smart, tough and driven -- all the qualities Nick Saban likes in a player.
Best surprise II: Florida's found itself a quarterback. OK, a backup quarterback. John Brantley was slinging the ball over the field in Gainesville this spring, and Urban Meyer was impressed enough to say that Brantley would see meaningful action next season. Maybe they'll line Tim Tebow up in the slot and let Brantley throw to him.
Best news: It was actually post-spring, but Auburn receiver signee DeAngelo Benton received word from the NCAA Clearinghouse that he was eligible to play next fall. Benton was a "must-have" for the Tigers.
Best hands: Some of the catches Vanderbilt receiver Terence Jeffers made this spring had his teammates oohing and aahing. The transfer from Connecticut isn't too bad after the catch, either. He's still working toward passing enough credit hours to be eligible in the fall, but Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said at the end of spring that he was somewhat optimistic that Jeffers would make it. The Commodores sure need him to.
Best breakthrough: We'll start with Tennessee defensive end Chris Walker, who's joined in that club by Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Trahan, Georgia running back Carlton Thomas, Kentucky safety Winston Guy and Alabama safety Robby Green.
Best quote: "The feeling around here is that we've got new life. We've got a new coaching staff, a new offense, a new attitude. Coach (Dan) Mullen said everybody was starting back to square one. That changed everybody's attitude, because everybody was going to get a chance to show what they could do," Mississippi State tailback Anthony Dixon on the impact of the new coaching staff.
Best quote II: "The number I'll be looking at is wins. Nobody wants to go through what we did last season," Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman on how many sacks he'll get in 2009.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Here are a few helmet sticker-worthy awards for the best of the best in the ACC this spring:
Best highlight-worthy play: Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams took off on an 80-yard touchdown run in the Hokies' first scrimmage of the spring. So much for waiting to make a statement.
Best hands: Maryland receiver Quintin McCree. He caught a game-high 163 receiving yards on four receptions, including touchdown catches of 58 and 75 yards in the Terps' spring game.
Best defensive performance: BC's Mark Herzlich had nine tackles, one tackle for loss and three pass breakups in the Eagle's spring game.
Best performance by a quarterback: Nobody can beat Kyle Parker's day at the park. He completed 13 of 21 passes for 171 yards and a score, and also ran for a touchdown in the spring game. Then he changed into his baseball uniform and went 3-for-7 with two home runs and five RBIs in a doubleheader against Miami.
Best comeback: The return of Re'quan Boyette at Duke. Sure, Toney Baker had a good spring, but while Tom O'Brien said his former leading rusher still wasn't 100 percent, Duke coach David Cutcliffe was calling his an "all-star."
Best position change: Miami receiver Sam Shields to defensive back. If any unit needs help in Coral Gables, it's the secondary, where the Canes picked off just four passes last season.
Best coaching decision: Butch Davis' decision to release cornerback Angelo Hadley from his letter of intent. Hadley was arrested twice in April.
Best quote: "I hope he competes for the job and tries to take it away from Russell [Wilson]," NC State coach Tom O'Brien said of backup quarterback Mike Glennon. "... Glennon has that potential tag, potential means you haven't done anything yet. He'll certainly have his opportunity, he's worked extremely hard out of season. He looked at a lot of tape. He's much better than he was a year ago.
"It became pretty obvious to us after the first couple of scrimmages [last year] our choice was going to be either Glennon or Wilson coming into the fall. Russell ended up winning that competition then. He's the incumbent and it's his job, but I think Michael Glennon wants to take it away from him."